London, 6 January 1841.
Dear Mrs. Tims,
It pleases God that I shall have a path of tribulation, but I begin to think it not strange, but that the Lord can cause much of his goodness to pass before me in the midst of the furnace. It was there the three children had the presence of Jesus Christ, and were carried safely through without the least harm; and there I too hope at times for much profit.
I have been for some few days considering what are the best means of profiting by affliction, and these words came as very suitable and profitable - "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked oft the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting." As it is said in the verse before, so the Lord in mercy "opened mine ear" to discipline, and by his grace "I was not rebellious." In this sad cast-down state I perceived a very sober watchful frame, especially to see by God's help, what was the secret movement of my spirit; for that measure of enlightened understanding which I think the Lord has given me, makes me very desirous of watching this point - If resentment be encouraged, if counter charges are made, if a self justifying spirit be cherished, at once to conflict with these, and by God's grace give my back to the smiters, though full of grief and mourning, yet with some little secret hope that "the Lord God will help me," so that I shall "not be confounded" [Isaiah 1. 5-7].
When I am brought to this, then comes in a secret peace, and I return once more to my old promise, "Wait on the Lord, and he shall (yet) save thee." This secret work is very little known to another by outward observation; but I am utterly astonished how such proceedings vanquish the enemy in all directions, so that he is not able to approach, and is for a season, wearied with oppressing. The Lord gently and sweetly whispered these words in my heart last night, when I was grievously upset with reproach - "In me ye shall have peace." And indeed I had peace; all my burden was removed for the time.
When Shimei cursed David, how wisely he bore it, saying, "Let him alone . . . It may be that the Lord will look on my affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day." [2 Sam. xvi. 12.] Now, my dear friend, I feel oftentimes exactly so. The Lord has often doubly blessed me in thus turning my battles to the gate, and not attempting to fight them myself; and though I am so terrified and cast down in the onset, as to believe there can be no escape for me, yet this very fright drives me to my Stronghold, which never yet did fail me in the time of extremity. "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the Name of the Lord, and stay upon his God" [Isaiah I. 10]. Let him venture on that Name and he will find that he cannot be confounded. I have walked in this mournful path, and have been often brought to such a point as to fear my utter ruin; instead of which I have had nothing but repeated tokens and assurances of the Lord's help. These have always appeared when all prospect of help has been at a distance.
What, say you, has been the effect of these conflicts and conquests? I think I have been kept more alive to the things of God. My family, and their souls' concerns, have been nearer to my heart, and therefore liveliness in my prayers and much watchfulness have been maintained in begging the Lord to keep them in bounds; and much peace has been the consequence; and what the final issue may be I do not yet know. I have also found the word more precious in the reading, the Lord often speaking upon my heart many things both of admonition and instruction; and in the word preached I have felt a great trembling, receiving it not as the word of man, but as the message of God, which has had a very humbling effect, and has often sent me home with cries and tears. This is another way of giving my back to the smiters.
We read as soon as David acknowledged his sin, Nathan had his message, "The Lord also has put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" [2 Sam. xii. 13]. O what a mercy it is to be enabled to attend to these divine and spiritual things, what heavenly prosperity follows, and what admiration is excited of Christ's beauty and suitableness? How our spirits are engaged in this divine work, so as to have no spare time for reflecting upon persons or things, to bring about a stumbling somewhere or other! The hot furnace is a good place to cure that disorder, and brings the severest reflections upon our own depraved hearts. It makes me feel myself of all sinners chief, and of all saints least; and the sad and painful discovery of my nature's evil makes me keep silence when I am reproached; being yet secretly assured, "YOUR HEART SHALL LIVE THAT SEEK GOD."
Yours sincerely, J. B.